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RoMulus project: developing intelligent multi-sensor systems for Industry 4.0

The RoMulus (Robust multi-sensor technology for status monitoring in Industry 4.0 applications) research project project sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is focused on simplifying and accelerating the development and use of intelligent multi-sensor systems for Industry 4.0——the digitalization of production processes based on devices autonomously communicating with each other along the value chain. (Earlier post.)

Multi-sensor systems are key components for the success of Industry 4.0 applications. They record, process, and transmit a number of measurement parameters, such as pressure, acceleration, and temperature, all in a highly compact space. Machines are not the only ones to receive such sensors; workpieces are also increasingly being fitted with the intelligent sensor systems so that each product can provide its blueprint and report its manufacturing status. Based on this information, production is largely able to organize and monitor itself.

BMBF is supporting RoMulus with €4.5 million (US$5 million), which covers some 70% of the total investment amount.

The 11 participating partners want to standardize and refine the steps leading up to the finished product in such a way that it is possible to produce even small quantities in a cost-effective manner. Such a result, would improve the market position of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in the sensor technology sector.

The partners are Zeiss; the Fraunhofer Institute IIS/EAS; Reutlingen University; Institut für Mikroelektronik- und Mechatronik-Systeme gemeinnützige GmbH; microsensys GmbH; Robert Bosch GmbH; the Technical University of Munich; TETRA Gesellschaft für Sensorik; Robotik und Automation mbH; the University of Bremen; the University of Freiburg; and X-FAB Semiconductor Foundries AG.

The edacentrum in Hanover is responsible for project management. The project began in October 2015 and is scheduled to last three years.

The development task is to combine two technologies in a highly compact space: microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS), which measure mechanical parameters, such as pressure and acceleration; and microelectronic sensor components, which determine temperature, light intensity, and chemical concentrations.

The finished systems must process large amounts of data in the most energy-efficient manner possible. Furthermore, they need to be robust enough to function reliably in an industrial setting.

The German sensor technology sector predominantly comprises small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). As a general rule, these SMEs are unable to cover all of the services themselves that are necessary for the development and production of multi-sensor systems, which is why they rely on close collaboration with semiconductor manufacturers and service providers for research and development.

We want to disentangle and standardize this collaboration, and thereby the design and manufacturing processes.

—project coordinator Dr. Eckhard Hennig, professor at Reutlingen University

In the future, SMEs will be able to select and compile development services as well as electronic components as if from a large kit, depending on what solution the customer requires for their very specific industrial application.

RoMulus makes it possible to systematically design and cost-effectively manufacture robust, energy-efficient multi-sensor systems, even in small quantities. As a result, German sensor technology manufacturers are leading the field in terms of creating an important technological basis for Industry 4.0 applications.

—Dr. Reinhard Neul from Robert Bosch GmbH

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